An alien ship has been hovering over Johannesburg since the 80s. Back then, humans broke in to see what’s inside and found a race of starving, desperate aliens. They brought them back down to earth. Fast-forward thirty years and they are living in a designated zone just for them, District 9. The population has exploded to 2 million, and it’s a neglected slum. We join our protagonist, tasked with moving them out of town on the back of increasing public displeasure with their presence. It all goes awry.
The premise sounds like such a heavy handed apartheid analogy (‘District 6’ being the actual slum) it’s almost silly. Don’t be fooled however, District 9 was a surprise hit in 2009 and looking at it today, it has all the makings of a modern sci-fi classic.
Part of the genius of this project is that the concept serves two purposes. One, to show apartheid in a different light and make us see how such a system might start in the first place. Two, as a cautionary tale; this is something that could happen again despite having already occurred in the past.
One key element that contributes to District 9’s success is the technical wizardry used to pull it off. This does not look like CGI, at all. The aliens are tangible, they interact with the environment like they are really there. This is a low budget film but they have made Hollywood blockbusters look amateurish in comparison. It’s ground breaking in this sense, and looks just as good five years on.
The second, more action-packed, half of the film is arguably weaker than the first, but it’s still stellar work from Blomkamp as he stops the film from becoming awash with noise and motion (something that lulls me to sleep). Everything is done with care and purpose.
District 9 is a compelling, provocative and entertaining film, a rare breed in modern sci-fi.